Zane Grey 50-Miler Test Of Guts, Will

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Some shy away from challenges, some meet them head on.

Those that choose to compete in the grueling Zane Grey 50-mile run are of the latter breed.

Since the inception of the endurance race in 1991, it has become known as the roughest and toughest trail run in the United States, testing the resolve and determination of those who choose to enter it.

Despite its reputation, 128 ultra-runners representing more than 18 states, Canada and Ireland turned out at 5 a.m., Saturday, April 16 to compete in the 21st annual run that began at the Pine Trailhead, continued over the Highline Trail, ending 51.4 miles later at the SR 260 Trailhead east of Christopher Creek.

The entire run is through the Tonto National Forest.

Geoffrey Roes, 34, of Nederland, Colo., was the first man to cross the finish line eight hours and 13 minutes after he began. A field of 91 men participated.

Roes is no stranger to long distance running, having won the 2010 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Race in 15 hours, 7 minutes.

Among the 31 women to enter the Zane Grey, Andi Felton of Scottsdale was first in 10 hours, 36 minutes. She was also eighth overall.

Hal Koenner, 35, of Oregon was the second male finisher in 8 hours, 36 minutes.

Bret Sarnquist, 32, of Arizona was third in 10 hours, 1 minute.

Among the women, Diana Finkel, 39, of South Fork, Colo. was second in 11 hours, 37 minutes and Sarah Dasher, 29, of Tucson, was third in 11 hours, 42 minutes.

Of the 128 starters, 91 successfully finished the race.

Payson man knows the challenges

As a former ultra-runner, or athlete who competes in runs longer than the traditional 26.2-mile marathons, Martin Szekeresh knows the Zane Grey 50-mile race is one of the most demanding in the sport.

“If the rocks don’t humble you, the bright sun, heat and low humidity will,” Szekeresh said.

“Add to that, there are plants and bushes along the way that stab, stick and lacerate exposed legs.”

There are also downed trees to climb over, several water crossings and a section of the forest scarred by the Dude Fire to navigate.

Also, there are sections of the course where runners are on their own for extended periods of time.

In past years, race management has had to dispatch search and rescue to retrieve runners.

The Highline Trail dates back to the 1870s when trails were blazed below the Mogollon Rim to connect homesteads of early settlers and pioneers.

Szekeresh said many out-of-state runners not familiar with the Zane Grey course scan finish times and believe they can do better.

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Martin Szekeresh photo

Sarah Dasher, 29, of Tucson, placed third among the women in the 2011 Zane Grey 50-Mile Race.

However, once those runners — often accustomed to running on unobstructed, leaf-covered trails — tour the rugged Rim Country course, they understand the difficulty of traversing it quickly and without injury.

At most Zane Grey events, medical staff treats numerous joint sprains, broken bones, dehydration and heat exhaustion.

During the 2011 run, the race day temperature was 80 degrees under clear blue skies. The temperature took its toll on some runners.

“The race winner (Roes) had to lie down in streams four times to cool off on his way to victory,” said Szekeresh.

In past years, volunteers — including 70-plus-year-old Karsten Solheim — have worked for days to clear the trail and make it somewhat easier for runners to negotiate.

Solheim, the son of the man who invented the putter with a “Ping,” has also been a frequent competitor in the 50-miler.

He finished the 2006 run, his 11th, in 14 hours, 53 minutes and is the champion of the first-ever Zane Grey run.

Along the Highline, Solheim and other volunteers have, over the years, fixed permanent metal diamonds marking the trail, which is a welcome relief to those runners who are negotiating the Highline for the first time.

Also an assist to runners is five aid stations set up on the Highline at mile markers, 8, 17, 25, 33 and 44.

“Each runner must leave the aid stations by a specified time or be eliminated from the race with a DNF (Did Not Finish),” said Szekeresh.

At the aid stations, runners can pick up “drop bags” containing their own supplies including energy bars, socks and energy drinks.

Between the aid stations, they must carry their own water bottles or hydration packs.

The Zane Grey race was first run just one year after an article in Arizona Highways magazine featured the trail saying that it would take four to seven days to hike the entire distance.

“Little did the author know that the following year, six runners would run it in less than one day,” Szekeresh said.

The only race an Arizona runner won occurred in 2002, when Dennis Poolheco, then a 40-year-old resident of Glendale, took the event in 8 hours, 47 minutes. Born near Winslow, Poolheco is a Native American member of the Hopi Nation.

In 2004, 34-year-old Dave Mackey of Colorado set the course record of 7 hours and 51 minutes. That ET represents an average speed of 6.37 mph.

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